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His body was thrown onto the pikes and dragged through the streets

Although he held the lofty title of Admiral of France, Gaspard II de Coligny (1519–1572) never commanded a fleet, and it is quite possible that he rarely went to sea.

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His body was thrown onto the pikes and dragged through the streets

Although he held the lofty title of Admiral of France, Gaspard II de Coligny (1519–1572) never commanded a fleet, and it is quite possible that he rarely went to sea. The fact that his name is always mentioned with his military rank is due to his role in the denominational field. As leader of the French Protestants, he played a crucial role in the so-called Huguenot Wars and during Saint Bartholomew's Day. In it, the admiral became the first victim.

As the son and nephew of a Marshal of France, Coligny was destined for a military career. It was thanks to her influence that he was brought to the court of Franz I at the age of 20, whom he soon accompanied on his campaigns. Evidence of his personal courage earned him quick promotions. At the age of 28, Coligny was already in charge of the infantry as Colonel-General. In 1551 he became governor of Paris and Île-de-France, and the following year admiral of France.

But as the number of titles grew, so did the number of envious people and competitors. One of them was the Duke Francis of Guise. As young courtiers they had been friends. But in the meantime they had turned the struggle for lucrative commands into bitter rivals. At the beginning of 1556, Coligny had succeeded in concluding a five-year truce between Henry II of France and Emperor Charles V in the Vaucelles Abbey. The treaty secured France the bishoprics of Metz, Toul and Verdun. This saw Franz von Guise and his brother Charles von Lorraine robbed of their chances of the planned campaign in Italy.

So Guise ignored the armistice and war broke out again. After a heavy defeat, the Spanish captured the Coligny-held town of Saint-Quentin in northern France in 1557. A two-year imprisonment followed. A lasting change took place in her in Coligny. He sought solace for his misfortune in the Bible and wrote letters asking for explanations of God's counsels.

The answer of the Geneva reformer Calvin became groundbreaking: “By sending you this test, God wanted to put you out of circulation, so to speak, so that you could hear him better. It's like he's trying to speak into your ear personally.”

Coligny was persuaded and first secretly, then publicly, converted to the Reformed faith. This gave the Huguenots, in addition to their leader Louis I de Bourbon, prince de Condé, an outstanding general who led them into the "Huguenot Wars" from 1562 onwards. On the one hand, it was about the freedom of religion of the Protestants, which was disputed by the radical Catholic party around the Guise family. On the other hand, Catherine de Medici tried for her still underage son Charles IX. led the regency to secure the power of the kingship.

To do this, they used a seesaw policy, with which they leaned towards the weaker faction in order to tip the scales. However, this did little to stem the escalation of violence that brought about the religious wars. After Francis de Guise was killed by a Huguenot during the siege of Orleans, the conflict also took on a personal dimension. The Guise party blamed Cologny for the assassination.

After the death of the Prince of Condé in 1569, Cologny succeeded him at the head of the Protestants. He was assisted by a nephew of Condé, Henry of Navarre. Katharina drew up a daring plan for his person. In order to end the enmity between the religious communities and their destructive wars, Heinrich and her daughter should enter into marriage. For this purpose, in August 1572, they were invited to the big wedding party in Paris.

Coligny and most of the leading Protestants trusted in the guarantee of safe conduct and took up quarters in the capital. For the admiral it was also a question of finally winning the court over to a war against Spain. The Guise party opposed this, since such a conflict would have strengthened the Huguenots, without whom such a conflict would hardly have been possible.

Who pulled the strings in the power game that followed continues to cause debate. Some see Catherine de Medici as the originator of the bloody massacre. In order to free herself from the dependence on Coligny, the regent would have changed sides again and, in alliance with the Guise, ordered the assassination of the most important Protestants. Others believe that Franz von Guise's sons, Heinrich and Ludwig, are responsible.

This thesis would explain why Coligny remained in Paris after an attempt was made to assassinate him on the morning of August 22nd. He was injured but survived. The attack was probably the result of the family feud with the Guise clan.

However, on the night of August 24, Heinrich von Guise not only invaded Coligny's house with his followers, but also with royal guardsmen. Shouting that it was "by the king's orders," the men stormed the admiral's bedroom, stabbing his body with the sword and tearing his face in half as he pulled it out, wrote contemporary writer Agrippa d'Aubigné. The body was then thrown onto the skewers of those waiting in the street, dragged through the streets, mutilated, set on fire and finally disposed of in the Seine.

Katharina, who wanted to get rid of annoying competitors, could well have been behind the second attack on Coligny. But the bloodbath that followed, in which around 3,000 Protestants fell brutally brutal in Paris alone, which is traditionally Catholic, probably had other causes.

The Berlin historian Alexander Schunka rejects the thesis that a Catholic conspiracy initiated the massacre. He sees an important indication in the handling of Coligny's body, which was dumped in the river: "The countless murders in the days and weeks that followed St. Bartholomew's Day were mainly committed by civilians against civilians ... Society should be cleaned of deviations, God's will should be done and further divine punishments prevented.”

For this reason, many bodies were disposed of in the water, so that residents on the lower reaches of the Seine still got an idea of ​​the massacre in Paris. In the 16th century, to rid society of evildoers, it was common practice to dump the bodies of suicides, werewolves, and revenants of all kinds in running water. According to Schunka, the Huguenots were now also “exposed to the cleansing power of water”.

The Protestants had lost many of their leaders and found themselves on the defensive, but survived the five religious wars that followed. Henry of Navarre escaped the massacre. In 1589 he ascended the throne of France as Henry IV, converted again to Catholicism (“Paris is worth a mass”) and brought the long-awaited peace to the country.

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